When we sing about heaven, we typically, and with good warrant, focus on life in the presence of our Creator and our Savior, of freedom from want and strife and suffering, of fellowship with the saints.
We sing of a place with “Not a shadow, not a sigh” (When We All Get to Heaven); where we “lay … ev’ry burden down” (Shall We Gather at the River); where “our spirits shall sorrow no more” as we meet “the Father [who] waits over the way” (In the Sweet By and By); with “no more tears to dim the eye” (What a Day That Will Be).
Wonderful. But lately I’ve been taken by the prospect of a place without lies, a place where truth reigns. First Timothy 1:10 says that “immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers” won’t be there. Revelation 21:8 presents another exclusionary list—“the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars”— these are the ones who will find themselves “in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Revelation 22:15 puts a sharper point on it in dismissing “everyone who loves and practices lying.” Not surprising when we learn in John 8:44 that the devil is the one, who, “when he lies … speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” For this reason, Massachusetts named their seventeenth-century requirement that all substantial towns have a school the “Old Satan Deluder Law.” They held the view that ignorance was devilish and that literacy was essential to learning Scripture as an antidote to spiritual and moral error.
As I write this, I’m on a Christmas visit to the home of my daughter and her family. Yesterday, conversation turned to the fraud and misdirection visited upon us in the marketplace, whether at the hand of the door-to-door magazine salesman who took the check knowing that no magazine would be forthcoming or the cable company which made the promise of router-refund, only to impose an elaborate runaround on those trying to get it. Of course, there are the execrable “journalists,” professors, and entertainment industry heavyweights who, wittingly or not, purvey false narratives and gainsay and suppress true accounts of our history, morality, current situation, and destiny. We continually cross paths with the personal lies of adultery, plagiarism, and phony excuses, as well the public policy lies of contrived anecdotes, bogus statistics, and campaign promises.
We’re awash in mendacity, two-facedness, and willful, invincible gullibility. Some liars try to capture us through computer scams; others assure us that we need unnecessary repairs, whether dental or automotive. Much deception comes in the form of advertisements, and much else is slipped into our minds by gossips, bloggers, and social media rumor mongers and slanderers. False religions commend spurious scripture; atheists dismiss our genuine scripture as fictitious. On the world stage, demagogues and tyrants press big lies on their unwitting or servile citizens, traffickers lure the vulnerable into various forms of slavery, and hackers corrupt the electronic networks of laudable nations. Lies everywhere. The list goes on and on.
But then, in glory, we find ourselves in a realm free of untruths and half-truths, of unthruthers and half-truthers. This is not to say that every single embarrassing truth about us will be rehearsed eternally, as if we were assigned “red A’s” to wear on our heavenly garments. For one thing, all who find themselves on high will understand that not one of us is there because of innocence or merit. It’s all of grace. And that grace covers our sins, so that, in Christ, there is no room for speaking of “stains that remain.” Heavenly silence on these matters is not the suppression of important truth.
Furthermore, the truth-guarantee of heaven is more than negative—the exclusion of falsehood. For though our grasp of reality is limited and flawed on earth, we will one day be inundated with face-to-face truth, with insights we cannot now imagine, strung together, piled on top of each other, never-ending. I don’t mean that we creatures will become omniscient or infallible. But at least we won’t be plagued by liars, pushing false stories.
So, yes, I look forward to saying goodbye to physical and emotional aches and pains, adieu to the sorrows of disease and mortality and the horrors of armed conflict. But I increasingly cherish the biblical vision of an eternal “safe space” from deception, where we need no longer be on guard against deceivers or grieved by a lack of vital information and wisdom.
Mark Coppenger is a retired philosophy professor and a member of the BibleMesh board.